Away in a Manger — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: 1 John 5:1-5
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Luke 2:4-7
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

From John: Once again, I have been looking forward to Jon Polk’s Advent contributions related to music related to this time of year. Jon has always been a key source through whom I learned about unique music and artists worth discovering. Jon is a music connoisseur and collector with a massive collection of music, both on his shelves and in his heart. This week, please enjoy his exploration of the carols of Advent.

Reflection: Away in a Manger — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

One of the world’s favorite Christmas songs is the lullaby-like carol, “Away in a Manger.” A 1996 Gallup Poll ranked it as the second most popular of all carols. The simple, saccharine lyrics are beloved by both children and adults alike.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.


First published in a Boston newspaper in 1882 with the title, “Luther’s Cradle Song,” it was accompanied by a notation which read, “The following hymn, composed by Martin Luther for his children, is still sung by many of the German mothers to their little ones.”

The great German reformer himself, known to be generally rough and abrupt in manner, penned a sappy, sweet Christmas hymn?

Actually, no. The song is nowhere to be found in any of Luther’s hymn collections or theological writings. Furthermore, linguists have compared the English and German versions of the hymn and concluded that the German is the translation not the original. Not only did those German mothers not sing “Away in a Manger” to their children, but they had never heard the song until hundreds of years after Luther’s death.

(Most likely, the song was written for and became attributed to Luther in connection with events surrounding the 400th anniversary of his birth in 1883.)

If its pedigree is not attached to the famous Martin Luther, why is this sentimental little song one of the world’s most favored Christmas carols? Its staying power may be found in the universality of parent-child relationships.

The parent-child relationship is the only human relationship that is unchangeable, permanent, and exists from cradle to grave. Friendships may wane over time, work colleagues come and go, and sadly, even many marriages end in divorce.

However, a parent will always be a parent to their child. A child will always be the child of their parents. The biological relationship is forged in eternity. More importantly, the love of a parent for their child is like no other. Ask any parent of a newborn to describe that love and they will be at a loss for words. It is in a word: indescribable.

Father God has called us his children. God’s love for us will never change. It is permanent, infinite, all-encompassing, unlike any other love. It is in a word: indescribable.

When we sing “Away in a Manger,” we are reminded of a parent’s profound love for a tiny, innocent baby and in turn, reminded of the infinitely more profound love that God has for us, his children.

I love you, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky,
And stay by my side till morning is nigh.


Listen: Away in a Manger by Shane & Shane (familiar US tune)
Listen: Away in a Manger by Lauren Daigle (familiar UK tune)
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org


Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 6.11-42 (Listen – 7:17)
1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)

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Read more about How Are You Waiting? — Hope of Advent
When we do the joyful work of anticipation and preparation for Christ’s Advent, we may find that it is actually we who are coming home.

Scandalous Surprise of Hope — The Hope of Advent

Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 2.5-6
5 “The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods. 6 But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him? 
 
1 John 2.7-8
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 

Reflection: Scandalous Surprise of Hope — The Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

Who are we to have such hope as advent promises? That Christ would come to us is baffling, surprising, and to some, scandalous. Yet he did and does and will do so.

Past promises pave a way for faith in the future. God’s gift comes to all as assuredly as it did before. Darkness will pass and true light will shine.

Christ was at one time hidden but was then revealed. He is the peasant child foretold by a star. He is the lowly babe, announced in the heights of heaven. He is the pearl discovered in the field. He is a treasure in a jar of clay. He is the lamp placed on a stand. He is a candle revealed when the bushel is kicked over. He is the light from the holy of holies spilling out when the curtain was torn from top to bottom. 

We see Christ as a living paradox and a mystery, a foolish farce to some and a source of unshakable faith for others. He is the uncontainable God, “tabernacling” in a human-made temple. He is the good which comes from a town no good thing could come from. He is the God who could not be seen, being born with a face to be kissed by his teenage mother. He is the source of life, whose life was snuffed out on a Roman cross and the source of light whose death put out the light of the sun that he called into being.

As we have written before about Jesus:

This is the glory of the incarnation— that God draws us in and shows us the fullness of who he is and what he is like in the form of a baby. He was hidden in the darkness of the womb, hidden in the darkness of the night of his birth, hidden in the arms of peasants from the eyes of the powerful. He was revealed to the outcasts, the unworthy, the foreigners, and the humble.

What is hidden will be revealed and what seems mysterious or foolish in the gospel will prove to be greater than all the wisdom of humankind. God will surprise us. New things, new light, new hope springs up even now for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 2 (Listen – 3:41)
1 John 2 (Listen – 4:04)

This Weekend’s Readings

2 Chronicles 3-4 (Listen – 5:42), 1 John 3 (Listen – 3:21)
2 Chronicles 5-6.11 (Listen – 9:47), 1 John 4 (Listen – 2:58)

Read more about Supporting our Work
We produce over 100,000 words a year to encourage believers to engage the culture with the love of God. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about The God of Light, in the Dark :: Hope of Advent
This is the glory of the incarnation— that God draws us in and shows us the fullness of who he is and what he is like in the form of a baby.

This We Proclaim — Hope of Advent

Scripture Focus: 1 John 1.1
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

From John: We look back this Thursday to this post from 2019. We wait in hope, not for a day on a calendar but a date written in the heart of God when all will be set right once again.

Reflection: This We Proclaim — Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

What are we waiting for in Advent? A day on the calendar, yes. But there is more.

In Advent we begin with hope. This hope is not a wispy, wishful, thread. Christmas is sure and expected, arriving steadfastly in boxes checked off on a calendar and boxes packed and opened in times of gift-giving. Eventually, the day passes, the season moves on and we begin waiting for the day of Christmas all over again. But the day we wait for on the calendar is merely symbolic and is not the actual day we are truly longing for.

Christmas Day is not the day that Jesus was born. Only badly written holiday cards and holiday movies believe that. The ancient church did not fix the celebration of Advent around the winter solstice because of history, but because of pedagogy. Celebrating the birth of Christ as light coming into the world, just at the time at which our world is at its darkest point was not an accident and it wasn’t cultural appropriation. Ancient Christians looked at their understanding of cosmology and saw the maker of the cosmos behind the movements. They measured the observable scientific data of the movements of the heavens and saw an analogy placed there by the maker of those heavenly movements.

At the time when we are farthest from the light, Light itself steps closer to us.
At the time when the world is the darkest, God appears as light.
At the time when all seems to be sinking, God rises and raises us with him.

John, whose gospel is more of an artistic logical argument rather than a historical logical document, leaves us no room to suspect that the events he recorded were fables or myths or legends. In his letters, John unequivocally affirms the reality of his account of Christ. He, together with the other Apostles and disciples, touched and saw and heard the intangible, invisible, unknowable God in the person of Jesus Christ.

In Advent, we wait literally for a day on the calendar. In waiting for this day, we are learning to wait for the tangible, visible return of Christ. We see now as in a glass, darkly, then we will know face to face. And just as surely as the day on the calendar will return, so will also return, this same Jesus. As we wait, we learn to hope. Come, Lord Jesus!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 1 (Listen – 2:47)
1 John 1 (Listen – 1:28)

Read more about Supporting our Work|The Park Forum strives to provide short, smart, engaging, biblical content to people across the world for free with no ads. Gifts to The Park Forum support this mission.

Read more about Expectation Affects Anticipation
He has shown us what is required. Do good. Shun evil. Give extravagantly. Live sacrificed. This Advent, we ask ourselves, “What are we waiting for?” Get on with it.

What We Do In Remembrance

Scripture Focus: 1 John 4.19-21
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Reflection: What We Do In Remembrance
By John Tillman 

Holidays in a time of pandemic are strange, aren’t they?

Most have gone through Lent and now Eastertide without gathering or celebrating as normal, and now on Memorial Day in the United States, we attempt to remember those who gave their lives in active military service without the traditional large gatherings, family cookouts, and other, more formal solemnities. 

While military service members who have died are the focus of this day, it is difficult for our minds not to turn to the many doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who are not active military members, but have died fighting a very real war against a very real virus. 

Medical personnel have been enduring stresses, schedules, and dangers similar to those they would experience in wartime. Their stresses and dangers are real and are exacerbated by the war-like tenor of public and political grandstanding by so many political leaders, and unfortunately some faith leaders, on the issues surrounding the crisis. 

So, on this Memorial Day let us remember that in word and in deed we are charged, commanded, and compelled by the Holy Spirit of God to enact and speak love in tangible ways to those around us. 

May we do so in remembrance of Jesus. We are called to strip ourselves of pride and clothe ourselves for service in ways that others deem unseemly or demeaning. We are charged to take up our cross and clothe ourselves not in “rights” but in righteousness.  

We do this not because we are loving people, but because He is a loving God. We love because of him (1 John 4.19) and hate in spite of him. If we do not or will not show love to others, we are in rebellion against God’s Holy Spirit (1 John 4.20) and are hardening our hearts, becoming more and more insensitive to His leading and to needs around us.

On this day, and on all the days to come, may we allow the Holy Spirit to re-soften our hearts toward his leading and toward our neighbors’ needs. May we be led toward loving actions and may loving and truthful words be placed on our tongues and on our keyboards. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence; and that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 26 (Listen – 2:58)
1 John 4 (Listen – 2:58)

Read more about Dirty Feet
Jesus, he turned everything upside down…Jesus washed each of the disciples’ feet, even Judas’…

Read more about Servants in the Age of Showboats
Whether in politics or in the church, so many of our leaders lead in the opposite way that Jesus described to his disciples, each lording their power over one another.

Complete Our Joy — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: 1 John 1.4
We write this to make our joy complete.

Reflection: Complete Our Joy — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

John, the beloved disciple, was not writing in a time of peace, happiness, or good circumstances for the church, yet his writing rings with riotous joy. This joy permeated the church despite the pervasiveness of persecution and the pressures of the surrounding culture.

The church was threatened by attacks of all kinds. There were political threats from Rome. There were theological threats from multiple directions, including Greco/Roman philosophers denying the facts of Jesus’ physical incarnation, and pressure from Jews who wanted to keep enforcing Jewish customs. 

There were also threats from industry and business. Christianity’s ideological assault on idolatry, impacted a booming business both in material goods and travel. This caused riots by those whose livelihoods (and political positions) depended on idolatry. 

In some ways, our age is not that different. Like the ten plagues of Egypt were direct attacks on the pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddesses, every Christ-like principle attacks one of our cultures’ idols. Greed, selfishness, lust, materialism, radical individualism, and power, just to name a few, each have commercial industries that monetize them.

But despite the pressures and oppression surrounding the church today and despite the uncertainty and danger of threats both viral and political, we can join in praying a joy-filled poem based on the opening passage of John’s first epistle. The purpose of this writing, John states, is to complete our joy. May it do so.

Prayer to Complete Joy
From the beginning, Lord, you were
Maker of Earth
Painter of Sky
Speaker of Word

In humility, Lord, you stayed
To be touched
To be seen
To be heard

Suffering, Lord, you pursued
To bleed
To die
To rise

Joyful, Lord, we proclaim
Your words
Your death
Your life

In fellowship, Lord, make us
More holy
More loving
More true

We pray this to make our joy complete
In suffering
In struggle
In you

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105:4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 23 (Listen – 2:50)
1 John 1 (Listen – 1:28)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 24 (Listen – 3:11), 1 John 2 (Listen – 4:04)
Isaiah 25 (Listen – 1:59), 1 John 3 (Listen – 3:21)

Read more about Joy in The Way of the Cross
Don’t be surprised if you are set at nought. It is part of the way of the Cross.

Read more about The Prayer From the Cross
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.